Planned Parenthood is asking a Utah court to consider blocking the abortion clinic ban

The organization filed a motion in 3rd District Court Monday asking to file an injunction against HB467, Utah’s latest “Abortion Changes” law.

A sign is shown in front of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Salt Lake City. The organization is asking a court to consider granting a preliminary injunction against an abortion clinic ban set to take effect May 3. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

One month before Utah’s abortion clinic ban is slated to begin taking effect, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah is asking a judge to consider a preliminary injunction against the new law as part of its case challenging the state’s abortion trigger ban.

Filed in 3rd District Court on Monday, the motion comes while Utah’s abortion ban — triggered last year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — remains blocked under a separate injunction. The Utah Attorney General’s office has appealed that injunction to the Utah Supreme Court.

“Meanwhile, however, the Utah Legislature has attempted to accomplish by other means what the Utah courts have prevented it from doing directly — ban abortion in Utah,” one filing reads.

The bill Planned Parenthood, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, is requesting relief from, HB467 or “Abortion Changes”, was signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox last month.

In a joint statement, Lisonbee and the author of the trigger ban, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said, “As a state, we deeply value human life. It’s the state’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable, and that includes the unborn. We worked closely with local doctors and hospitals to ensure the statute strikes the best balance of protecting innocent life and protecting women who experience rare and dangerous complications during pregnancy.”

The statement continued, “We look forward to reading and fully understanding the lawsuit’s claims and will vigorously defend statute.”

Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office said it had no comment on the motion.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, and Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, speak on HB467 as the House Judiciary Committee meets in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.

Although abortion is currently legal in Utah up to 18 weeks, under the new law the state will stop renewing and issuing licenses for abortion clinics starting May 3, and will completely outlaw them in January 2024.

The bill will move all abortions to facilities that meet the state’s definition of a “hospital” under its abortion laws. While that definition includes general hospitals, it also includes clinics “certified by the department as providing equipment and personnel sufficient in quantity and quality to provide the same degree of safety as ... a general hospital licensed by the department.”

Under this requirement, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah’s interim CEO Sarah Stoesz told reporters at a news conference Monday that without a preliminary injunction, the organization’s clinics will stop offering abortions in May.

In the filing, attorneys also noted that the Utah Department of Health and Human Services “informed PPAU that only licensed hospitals and satellite clinics operating under a general hospital’s license would be eligible for the Clinic Ban’s expanded ‘hospital’ definition, despite that this limitation appears nowhere in the text of HB 467.”

Throughout consideration of the bill, abortion rights advocates — including those representing Planned Parenthood — asserted that HB467 would act as a de facto abortion ban. Monday’s filings maintained that position.

“Because hospitals in Utah provide abortion only in a narrow set of circumstances, licensed abortion clinics provide over 95 percent of the abortions in the state, just as safely and at far lower cost than hospitals,” the motion for a preliminary injunction reads. “The Clinic Ban therefore functionally bans abortion in Utah.”

The request continues, “Accordingly, if left unrestrained, the Clinic Ban will effectively nullify this Court’s 2022 preliminary injunction.”

Targeting the block on the trigger law, lawmakers passed a bill during this year’s legislative session to retroactively change court rules for when a judge can issue an injunction to delay a law passed by the Legislature.

Although the rule change has so far not impacted the existing injunction as the Utah Supreme Court considers the state’s appeal, it is unclear how the new rules might impact this request. The new law disallows judges from using the same standard cited in the ongoing hold on the law — that it presents “serious issues on the merits which should be the subject of further litigation.”

Attorneys outlined in the filing how a potential preliminary injunction might satisfy the new rules, which require it to show that Planned Parenthood is “substantially likely to prevail on the merits” in its lawsuit.

Planned Parenthood’s attorneys are asking for expedited consideration of a potential preliminary injunction, with hopes a decision will come down before next month.

“As proud as we are of what we’re doing, we are also proud to fight, and we look forward to our day in court,” Stoesz said.